Hotly debated fitness topics are in no short supply: yoga vs. pilates, cardio vs. strength training, treadmill vs. outdoor running—the list goes on. But no dispute is as polarizing as the one surrounding morning vs. evening workouts.
Of course, the absolute best time to work out is whenever gym time meshes with your schedule so you actually show up on the regular. If you can only squeeze in a jog or yoga flow after work, it's smarter to do that then skip it altogether, exercise physiologists and trainers say.
That said, there is an optimal time to workout when you'll reap the most benefits—and that's in the A.M. Research shows that starting the day with a heart-pumping sweat session does come with indisputable health benefits; and honestly, it's not as hard as you think—once you get the hang of it. Still not convinced? Let these five science-backed reasons to start setting your alarm a little bit earlier do the trick.
“When you start the day working on your health, you'll strive to maintain that healthiness," explains Zack Daley, CPT, head coach at Tone House in New York City.
Think about it: When you're proud of yourself for consistently killing it at your 8 a.m. class, you won't want to ruin that healthy high by always gorging on breakfast donuts, right? Instead, you'll likely try to keep that awesome feeling going by skipping the pastries, taking the stairs to get to your office, and indulging in a grain bowl at lunch rather than the taco Tuesday special. All of these little moves add up to a healthier you.
According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), people who hit the treadmill at 7 a.m. sleep longer, experience deeper sleep cycles, and spend 75 percent more time in the most reparative stages of slumber than those who exercise at later times in the day. The NSF also notes that those who sweat at night tend to have more trouble catching shuteye, possibly because working out raises your body temperature—and an overheated body is a known sleep saboteur.
Anecdotally, Daley believes this to be true: “I find that when I work out early, I am able to get to bed easier at night. But when I work out later at night, my adrenaline is still going from my late night workout.”
People with high blood pressure, aka hypertension, often need medications to control this dangerous condition. But lifestyle changes—like exercising in the morning—may help.
In one 2014 study published in the Journal of Vascular Health and Risk Management, researchers had participants exercise at three different times of day: 7 a.m., 11 a.m., and 7 p.m. Those who worked out early in the morning at 7 a.m. reduced their post-workout blood pressure by 10 percent. That dip continued all day and lowered even more at night, compared to the other participants, the researchers concluded. (The study subjects who worked out at 7 a.m. also slept better and had longer sleep cycles compared to their later-workout counterparts.)
“Working out gives you that boost of endorphins, which are basically natural painkillers for the body,” says Katherine "KG" Gundling, CPT, trainer at ICE NYC. If your brain gets that endorphin bath early in the morning, you'll start your day feeling more optimistic and less susceptible to stress and anxiety, setting you up for a positive, productive workday. “You’ll also get a feeling of accomplishment knowing that you’ve made time for yourself first thing and have made your mental health a priority,” says Gundling.
Yep, if you're working out to lose weight, your results might depend (at least a little bit) on timing. According to a 2019 study in the International Journal of Obesity, those who exercised earlier in the day (at least before noon) lost "significantly more weight" than those who exercised later in the day, past 3 p.m.
While researchers admit that the study was small and needs more data to back up these claims, they also found a few other differences in morning versus late exercisers: According to researchers, early exercisers were slightly more active throughout the day, and ultimately ended up taking more steps than late exercisers. Those who exercised early on also ate bout 100 calories less—though researchers said these differences are barely applicable.
In a perfect world, you would look forward to your regular date with the elliptical machine with pure, unbridled enthusiasm. But sometimes going to the gym is the last thing you want to do; it feels like a chore or a time suck, or the weather is terrible and you just want to go home and watch a Housewives marathon. Make it there early in the day, however, and you get your sweat session out of the way, so you won't nag yourself about it later.
“Especially if you have a busy schedule, working out in the morning can be the best way to plan and ensure that your workout doesn’t get pushed to the side at the end of a long day,” says Gundling. “If you’ve worked out in the morning, you don’t have to choose between exercise and happy hour or exercise and dinner with friends, so it’s easier to make it a habit.”
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